Capturing the Elephant

elephant 2

Religion is like those fairly grotesque paintings of elephants created by Europeans in the middle ages who had never actually seen exotic animals from other continents, but had read descriptions of elephants written by travelers, wanderers who had actually seen them. I imagine the travelers–those ones who had first hand knowledge of the animals– wrote their descriptions in an attempt to share the wonder, grasping to put the astonishing, the impossible, the ephemeral into words. But words are never big enough to hold truth. (If you don’t believe me, fall desperately in love, and then try to write a poem about it.  The poetic result will be laughable, compared to the ocean of inexpressible love that crashes inside you.)

When the ones who had never seen exotic animals read the words of the travelers, they tried to paint what they imagined as they read, and in so doing, they continued the travelers’ attempts to calcify the ephemeral.  Instead, they gave birth to comical monstrosity.  A big gray thing with a long long trumpeting nose? Well then, it must look like this. (Drum roll, please…)

I give you an elephant!


And those who have actually seen a living, breathing elephant laugh and laugh. The difference between reading about and seeing is the difference between watching the weather channel and being swallowed alive by a hurricane. Reality should never be represented and cemented by those who have not seen.

When _____ spoke to Moses from the burning bush, Moses asked his name. _____ said, “I am what I am.” Meaning don’t try to define me. Don’t try to name me. Don’t try to chop me up into bite sized pieces your mortal mind can understand. The second you slap a label on me, you have reduced me to something smaller than I am because words are too small to hold me. I am what I am. And you are what you are. And it is enough.

In some places, it is considered blasphemy to say the name of ______. That is because those who have caught a glimpse of the elephant know that ______ does not have a name mortal language can grasp, and the second you give ______ a name, you have blasphemed, imagined yourself as A God bigger than _______, egotistically declaring yourself as one who has made the infinite finite, the unknowable known, the unseen seen.

And ______ looks at your comically monstrous so-called elephant and laughs and laughs.

The second you were born, you were named, and your infinity was blasphemed, and the _______ within you laughed and laughed.  And they called you a whore, and the _______ within you laughed and laughed.  And they called you a saint, and the _______ within you laughed and laughed.  And you cried at your imaginary losses, and the _______ within you laughed and laughed.  And you died, and you were still there, and the _______ within you laughed and laughed.

eye of horus

The sky is there to remind you of all you do not know, all that you, in your present form, can never know. The stars go on into a forever your mortal mind can never grasp. So stop trying to hold them.  Let infinity swallow you whole. Then you will be whole. Then you will be a drop of water in a crashing ocean of all, moving mindlessly in time with the great dance. Then you will know______ for a split second, for the length of time you can stand to behold without grasping at knowing. Then you will catch a glimpse of the elephant.

Let ______ pass. Don’t try to paint a picture. Gasp at the elephant’s infinite beauty, and let the gasp be enough.

Or if you pick up your paintbrush and create a monstrosity, look at your folly and laugh and laugh.  It is a great joke.  Don’t make too much of it.  You can always burn it in the fire.  Or hang it on the wall so others can laugh with you.  But I beg you, don’t frame it.  Don’t ask your neighbors to bow before it.  Don’t put guns to people’s heads and force them to the declare your laughable monstrosity the epitome of elephant-ry.

It is scary knowing you were wrong.  But fear is funny, just a strange drawing of the infinite elephant, a clumsy attempt at making sense of  ______, a way of interpreting reality that got is all wrong.  Laugh at it.

___ is what ____ is.

You are what you are.

And we continue to draw our comically monstrous, one-dimensional, so-called elephants. And the infinitely-dimensional wonder of creation that lies just beneath our feeble labels, our cartoon blasphemies, our garish lies, laughs and laughs.

And the sky goes on forever.

And the ocean keeps on crashing.

And ____ keeps on being ______.

______ is always laughing



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